Cyprus Yanks Passport of Fugitive Malaysian Businessman

Photo: AP/EU

After a newspaper printed a photo of what it said was a Cypriot passport given Malaysian businessman Jho Low, who is on the run from the law in his country and reportedly living on the island, the Cypriot government has stripped the citizenship he bought through the much-criticized Golden Visa program, Business Insider Singapore said.

The newspaper Politis produced the passport photo, setting off a furor that came as the government admitted there were flags in the visa program that critics said was open to money laundering and criminal activity and stripped 26 rich foreigners of their citizenships as well.

President Nicos Anastasiades, who defended the visa program strenuously, had said the government would “absolutely” revoke Low’s passport if it existed, Politis reported, with an audit set of some 4,000 Golden Visa residency permits that come with European Union passports.

Applicants’ background checks did not have to be submitted to the Government. Low’s report, conducted by Thomson Reuters and reproduced by Politis, indicated he was a politically exposed person at risk of money laundering and fraud.

After a Reuters report said relatives of Cambodian Premier Hun Sen were using riches to buy Golden Visas in Cypriot, the government moved swiftly to pull back the passports for the 26 people who weren’t named but said to include eight of his relatives and allies, and a Kenyan billionaire under investigation for tax evasion, the Cyprus Mail also added.

Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides added that it had been “a mistake not to have criteria… for high-risk persons” although Anastasiades stuck by it and said that the residency permits and passports given people who weren’t eligible and hadn’t been check were “honest mistakes.”

Former Interior Minister Socrates Hasicos, said in Facebook posts that Low’s passport was granted during his term, but said the wanted financier had no criminal record at the time, based on checks with Interpol, Cyprus police, and the Cypriot bank he used.

But he denounced a Politis report that Low got his passport within two days after giving 300,000 euros ($331,550) to Cyprus’ Orthodox Church in 2015.